Legal Eagle Out To Change Court System


Nearly three weeks into the job as Gila county's top legal eagle, newly elected County Attorney Jim Hazel said he's "working hard, and having a lot of fun.

"It's really not anything different than what I was expecting," he said Wednesday. "I'm used to working hard; this is just a different kind of hard work."

Hazel took over the county attorney's office when he defeated incumbent Jerry DeRose in November with 53 percent of the votes.

Together with his Chief Deputy County Attorney Dennis "Dino" McCarthy, Hazel said he's putting his mark on the county's legal process.

"We're bringing a completely different approach to the way we handle our prosecutions," he said. "We're going to be reviewing cases up front, and have them prepared for court right away. We'll have plea agreements drawn up at the start, which should save us time in the long run."

What that means for defendants, Hazel said, is that when a person is charged with a crime, he or she will be handed a plea agreement and a copy of the police report right at the beginning of the process. The accused will then have 45 days to sign the plea agreement or opt for trial.

That change in the process, Hazel said, comes from a mandate from the Arizona Supreme Court that requires all counties to get 95 percent of their cases resolved within the first 100 days.

"Last year, I think Gila County complied with about 45 percent of its cases," he said. "The state has hired a consultant, and we're working with them to re-engineer the court system."

As the new chief prosecutor, Hazel also is re-engineering his own work habits.

"I've been working as a defense attorney. Now I'm a prosecutor," he said. And that change has caused a few wrinkles in some of the county's most high-profile cases.

For example, he said, the cases against Paul Roosen the man accused of murdering Calista Wright and Lenny Kizzar the convicted shooter of a Payson police officer have been postponed again.

"We'll have to have a different prosecutor on those, since I was the defense attorney for both," he said. "The attorney general will be coming up Jan. 29 to help us out with those cases."

The case of Roy George Haught, the man convicted in connection with the beating death of Strawberry mechanic James Cooper, has been turned over to McCarthy, Hazel said.

"I've given him that case to review and then give me an update," he said. "I know the defense will probably file motions seeking relief from that. We'll be doing a legal review of the entire case."

One other change Hazel said he's proud of is the hiring of a victim-witness coordinator. He's narrowed down his crew of investigators from seven to five, allowing for the new position.

"That person represents the victims, brings the victim's thoughts and opinions to me, notifies the victims of upcoming court dates ... things like that," he said.

Once he gets a better handle on the job, Hazel said he expects to split his time each week between offices in Payson and Globe. He's also hired an administrative assistant to act as his liaison with the public.

"That person is Byron Cotney of Pine," he said. "With the traveling back and forth that I'm going to be doing, he'll be the contact for the public. He'll be responsible for taking their calls, getting the information needed and passing that along to me."

To get in touch with the county attorney, call the Payson office at 474-4068, or the Globe office toll-free at (800) 304-4452, ext. 298.

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